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Arunabha Ghosh: Building the International Solar Alliance

The main aims of ISA include reducing financial risk across a larger global market, encouraging cooperation on technology, building capacity, and increasing energy access

Arunabha Ghosh 

Arunabha Ghosh

The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is an exciting and bold initiative. Launched on the first day of the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, it set the stage for India's proactive and forward-looking leadership on climate change and the transition to a less carbon-intensive growth trajectory. It demonstrated that India was not shy of playing to its strengths. Although other countries have more solar power deployed currently, India will be one of the largest markets and its domestic policy (to build 100 gigawatts) has sent signals to developers and financiers. What is big in India can be bigger at a global level. The main aims of ISA include reducing financial risk across a larger global market, encouraging cooperation on technology, building capacity, and increasing energy access. Announcing an international platform, jointly with France but on the foundations of its domestic policies, helped India garner the support of 120 countries, a diplomatic feat indeed.

Yesterday, in Abu Dhabi, the ISA Steering Committee held its second meeting (within two months of launch), a sign that there is both interest in and momentum behind ISA. However, ISA is one among many multilateral and plurilateral initiatives, which have been launched in recent years. These include the International Renewable Energy Agency, Renewable Energy Policy Network, Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, Global Green Growth Institute, and so on. As the newest inter-governmental institution in the world, it is imperative that ISA carves a niche for itself and demonstrates genuine value to its members. Here is a roadmap for immediate next steps.

First, select a director general (DG) with a secretariat: A dynamic DG can draw attention to the alliance, build relationships with member states and other international institutions, interact with the media regularly, and develop a strategic plan. The appointment of a DG will take time and will require consensus among member states. But a good choice would make the difference between leadership that can articulate and execute a vision and one that fails to grasp ISA's potential.

Second, create a core ISA coordination group: Since its launch, the ministries of new and renewable energy, external affairs and other agencies have been discussing informally and working together to keep the ISA wheels moving. However, since the world is looking at how this evolves, a dedicated inter-ministerial group will be needed to distribute the workload, allocate funds, maintain contact with member states, and prepare related documents.

Third, issue a white paper on ISA governance: ISA is an inclusive multilateral institution but there is as yet lack of clarity on its governance structure. How will decisions be taken? Will contributions impact voting rights? How will the needs of advanced and emerging economies and those of smaller member states be balanced? A paper outlining alternative governance models would draw in ideas from member states and other stakeholders and inform deliberations in subsequent meetings.

Fourth, launch an ISA website, which should feature the ISA declaration, list of members and observers, minutes of meetings, proposed activities, a meeting calendar, governance structure, and, eventually, outcomes of ISA activities.

Fifth, issue monthly ISA briefings: Until a dedicated DG and secretariat are in place, regular press briefings and monthly updates to all ISA member countries would build support. The more ISA is in the news, the more its activities and potential will get attention.

Sixth, assess all proposals through a "value-add" lens: A number of ideas are beginning to come forward on what other institutions (private, public and inter-governmental) could do to shape ISA's agenda, such as mobilising investments or deploying projects in member countries. It is important that ISA activities do not overlap unnecessarily with those of other organisations. A "value-add" perspective - and measuring each initiative against stated aims - would help ISA specify its unique proposition for the benefit of members and investors.

Seventh, kick-start bold initiatives: It would be useful to launch one or two bold initiatives, which could capture the imagination of ISA members. An "Energy Storage Prize" (to promote cross-country research and development collaborations) and a "Solar Rooftop Financing Initiative" (a financing challenge common to many countries) could trigger interest from innovators, project developers, bankers and other investors.

Eighth, establish formal links with private sector platforms: many other renewable energy-focused organisations do not have strong links to the private sector. ISA can distinguish itself by giving private sector consortia observer or associate member status, encouraging them to design and implement ISA programmes, and build relationships for targeted investments.

Ninth, announce an ISA summit and expo: An annual or biennial summit and expo would draw further interest. Just as International Renewable Energy Agency organises its General Assembly around the time of the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, the ISA summit could be held alongside RE-INVEST in New Delhi.

Tenth, build an ISA headquarters in New Delhi: ISA will need its recognisable location, branding and identity. On 25 January, Prime Minister Modi and President Hollande of France will jointly lay the foundation stone of the ISA building. The headquarters' design should convey ISA's vision, its open and inclusive governance, its emphasis on practical solutions and scale, and its purpose of delivering clean energy access to millions.

The writer is chief executive, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (
Twitter: @GhoshArunabha

First Published: Mon, January 18 2016. 21:46 IST